Stan & Ollie
Two comedy legends riding the rollercoaster ride of show business and spanning the course of four decades, Laurel and Hardy experienced it all. In the late 1920s and 30s, the movie industry was in a very different condition to what we know today, with studios such as MGM and Warner Bros tying actors and double-acts to long working contracts, binding the performer exclusively to the company’s productions. Laurel and Hardy were subject to such a program, but after failing to reach an agreement during negotiations, the former did not have his contract renewed and the two parted company, before reuniting shortly after. It is at this point in their careers that John S Baird picks up the story for Stan & Ollie.
It’s 1953, and since the two comic icons have fallen upon harder times as the years have flown by, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C Reilly) leave the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to descend on a UK stage tour that will hopefully reinvigorate their careers and land them a commissioning deal for their new screenplay Robin Good. Although numbers dwindle in their early shows, following a few of publicity stunts organised by their agent Bernard Delfont (Rufus Jones), the tour begins to pick up pace, with sellout shows all across the country. However, with this renewed success comes the strain. It is clear to both Stan and Ollie that they are not getting any younger, with the latter in particularly poor health and the former still holding grudges from the duo’s previous separation period. The pains of the tour only greaten these tensions and what follows is a truly profound exploration into the two performers and their own emotional relationship with one another behind the curtain.
To put it plainly, Stan & Ollie is a really, really lovely film. The casting for the picture is nigh on perfect with Coogan and the marvellously prosthetic Reilly not only embodying their historical counterparts to total perfection, but presenting themselves as one of the greatest on-screen duos of the year. That is, of course, if they can see off the fierce competition of their own colleagues and on-screen wives Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda – who play Lucille Hardy and Ida Kitaeva Laurel respectively with the utmost hilarity and modesty, but still make sure not to upstage the central characters, providing that emotional stability that both men so desperately required at the time. With the addition of Rufus Jones’s comically dry Delfont to a script already bursting with humble quips and gags, you will never be short of a laugh or two, and the viewing experience is made all the more pleasurable by a lack of shoehorning when it comes to comedic elements content.
The story as a whole works considering the amount of historical substance actually available for the plot, and although the inevitable conflict between the two men feels slightly involuntary, the overarching charm of the picture begs for the audience to still root for them as they battle other demons. The film presents itself as more of a romantic feature, investigating Stan and Oliver’s relationship and love for each other, whilst testing the waters when the broth boils over. Staying honest to the original content of the two performers and re-enacting some hilarious sketches, a wonderful on-screen chemistry blossoms between Coogan and Reilly, who perform in and around grand Hollywood sets in visual shots that would make any cinematographer blush.
Stan & Ollie is an incredibly satisfying historical and biographical drama, encapsulating the core tenets of not only what the duo meant to each other, but also what their work means to their fans and the future generations that have grown up either around – or aware of – their movies. Baird’s film can ultimately be labelled a cast-iron success, thanks mainly to the fabulous performances of his two main protagonists and their supporting cast.
Stan & Ollie is released nationwide on 11th January 2019.
Watch the trailer for Stan & Ollie here: